Bonsai

Yoshida spends most of his weekend in his small yet abundant garden, carefully nurturing an award-winning collection of bonsai. He starts with the Japanese maple he planted with his grandfather over 50 years ago. A clear day in early spring is the perfect time to repot and prune. First, Yoshida tilts his tree to one side and gives a gentle tug to its trunk. It stays lodged in the pot, so Yoshida delicately taps the side of the pot with his hand to loosen the soil, which succeeds in liberating the tree and its roots. With a chopstick he scrapes away accumulated moss and untangles the roots. Then he brushes away about a third of the soil from the edge and base of the root ball. Spraying a light mist over the roots ensures they won’t dry out or have too much soil on them when it comes time to pruning. For that task, Yoshida retrieves his cutters and begins with the thick, brown roots near the edges that restrict the growth of the newer feeder roots. Thinner roots dangling near the bottom are the next to go, and Yoshida carefully trims them so they’ll fit comfortably in the new pot he’s selected. To anchor the tree, Yoshida threads some wires through the drainage holes, then inserts the tree and roots and strives to achieve the perfect balance between a solid foundation for the roots and an aesthetically pleasing angle for the protruding tree. After adding a little more soil and watering the pot, he reclaims the cutters and prunes the leaves and branches. A snip here, a trim there. Having the right instincts means everything, and experience is his most effective tool. Yoshida sets his pot in front of him to admire his work and repeats the enthusiasts’ credo: shin-zen-bi—truth, goodness, beauty. Virtues for bonsai, virtues for life.

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